“I don’t like you.” Nebraska state Sen. Megan Hunt said that to Republicans in March, as she filibustered legislation that would ban gender-affirming treatment for minors like her son, Ash Homan. “You aren’t a safe person for my child to be around — or any child, frankly.”
That standoff dragged on for months, burning time that the GOP majority and a new governor expected to spend passing their agenda. It ended this week, when Republicans added a 12-week abortion ban to the bill and broke the filibuster. Hunt talked with Semafor shortly before the new GOP strategy unfolded.
Americana: You’ve said elsewhere that this legislation grew out of a backlash to updated sex education. What was it that happened?
Megan Hunt: So, I never wanted to run for office. My background is really in entrepreneurship and activism. In 2015, Omaha, where I live, was updating its sex education curriculum for the first time since 1971. A lot of kids had been getting the same sex education that their grandparents were getting, and since then, we’ve had the AIDS epidemic, and the Internet, and an increasingly out and depressed and suicidal LGBTQ population.
I was part of a group that knew one way to fix that was to just make sure that people were getting sex education that was age appropriate and medically accurate. We did it, but it kind of branded me in Nebraska as like the psycho leftist, and I feel like I’ve had this target on my back in Nebraska politics ever since then. But I had thought that we were kind of on the upswing, you know? We had the Obergefell marriage equality decision around that time.
We have the only nonpartisan legislature in the country, and traditionally, it’s always lent itself to a lot of collaboration and compromise. This session, with a new legislature, is the very first time in Nebraska’s history that we’ve ever seen so many culturally conservative, far right, extreme bills make it to the floor for general debate. It’s kind of scary and overwhelming. Even though this is a Republican state, we hadn’t been sidetracked before by this anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-woman bullshit.
Americana: So what changed in this session?
Megan Hunt: The woman who introduced these anti trans bills, Kathleen Kauth — she’s new, she was appointed. Because her anti-trans bill made it out of committee, and it’s on the floor for debate, we’re forced to take it seriously. It’s really taken up all of the oxygen in the whole legislature. If I were one of the more experienced lawmakers who have been working on their pet projects for seven, eight years, that would annoy me.
It’s really depressing. My favorite thing about the legislature has always been that we can collaborate and compromise, and we have these relationships. That’s just a little bit over. Reasonable people can have disagreements on whether we should ban abortion at 20 weeks or 12 weeks, or even six weeks. But some of this basic civil rights shit, I’m just like: What the fuck is wrong with you? I don’t talk to them. I don’t acknowledge them. I don’t want to work with them. I literally don’t think that they’re good people.
Americana: On the floor, what’s been your strategy for taking up time with the filibuster?
Megan Hunt: I really try not to read things. I’ve gotten kind of good at doing a stream of consciousness thing that wraps up everything in a bow. When I talk, I tell myself that nobody’s listening, and then it takes all the pressure off me and I don’t feel nervous. Sometimes I pretend in my head that I’m on a talk radio show, like I’m a little Rush Limbaugh or something, and I have to fill up three hours with content. I actually worked for a radio station for a while, doing prep for their drive-time show, and it’s not super different.
Americana: During the filibuster, you left the Democratic Party and registered as an independent. Why?
Megan Hunt: The way they talk about it just really doesn’t represent the way things actually are here. What I hate is when, on TV, they’ll say something like “Democratic hero Megan Hunt claps back against Republican leadership,” stuff like that. Okay, maybe that would work for some other legislative body. But that’s literally not right. They’ll say something like “Democratic queen is pushing back against Republican trash,” and it’s so annoying, because it totally misrepresents how things work here.
If Fox says “Democrat Megan Hunt,” that means we hate Megan. If Vox or something says “Democrat Megan Hunt,” that means we love Megan. I get it, labels are useful. But obviously Democrats are not a monolith. We’ve got Democrats in Nebraska who support complete abortion bans who are voting for the anti-trans bill. And we’ve got Republicans in Nebraska who aren’t. I just don’t want to be a part of it.
Somebody on Twitter was like, “Oh, you’re gonna lose your next election because you won’t have their donor list.” And I was like: Bitch, I’ve never seen a donor list in my life. Is the party supposed to help you fundraise? I’ve literally never heard of that. The national Democrats never noticed anything we were doing in Nebraska until one or two of us got a little popular on Twitter. Then it was like, all of a sudden, we’re your favorite? Shut up.
Americana: You’re an atheist, which is still pretty rare in electoral politics. How do your beliefs shape what you’re doing now?
Megan Hunt: I’m not a joiner. I wouldn’t even quite call myself an atheist because you go to these atheist conferences, and they are more dogmatic than some of my Christian colleagues. I don’t want anything to do with that, either. My viewpoint in terms of spirituality is that I literally can’t fucking know. I will never know what the meaning of life is. So all I need to focus on is my happiness, and making sure that I reduce as much suffering for people as possible, and that I’m never the reason that somebody else is unhappy. That’s my political ethic.